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J. Frank Raley, Jr. (1926 - 2012)

On August 21, 2012, former state Senator J. Frank Raley, Jr., aged 85, died at his home in St. Mary’s City. Senator Raley’s passing closes an important, almost epic chapter in the region's 20th-century political history. How important? The landscape Southern Marylanders experience traces its genesis to the efforts of Senator Raley and his colleagues in and out of elected office. Improvements in the region's roads, the construction of the Thomas Johnson Bridge, the introduction of land-use planning, the expansion of St. Mary's College of Maryland, and the creation of the St. Mary's City Commission and Point Lookout State Park formed the place we know today. 

Along with then-Delegate John Hanson Briscoe and elected leaders from Charles and St. Mary's counties, Senator Raley worked to modernize the region, generate economic development, and raise the standard of living. These efforts set the stage for the region's enviable record of growth, and their long-term success is reflected in the region's relative resilience during the current recession.

This success came at political cost to Senator Raley, who agreed to support Governor J. Millard Tawes' program to eliminate slot machine gambling in exchange for the state's investment in the region's infrastructure. Senator Raley served only one term when a majority of voters did not support his re-election. No matter, as former Senator Raley spent the rest of his life using his skills and standing to advocate for his beloved St. Mary's County. 

This online exhibit pays tribute to one of the founders of modern St. Mary's County.


On the Campaign Trail

Senator Raley talks about the struggle between the "political machine" in Leonardtown and the upstarts in Lexington Park.  


On Higher Education

There's a reason there is a public four-year college in St. Mary's County.  


Who Owns the Potomac River?

To some people, J. Frank Raley, Jr. will be remembered as the man who "gave away" the Potomac River (to Virginians). In this section, we explore how the Maryland senator managed to find himself at the center of a centuries-old battle over a river. 


Remembering J. Frank Raley, Jr. 

[J. Frank Raley] was the person who had the vision, and [he] knew that if all the infrastructure was put in place and there was an attractive place for people to come and work, either in the United States Navy or as civilian servants, this place would develop as you see it today. And [his] dream came true.  -Judge John Hanson Briscoe in a StoryCorps interview. 

A note on our oral histories: 

Between 1992 and 2001, students and researchers affiliated with St. Mary's College and the St. Mary's City Commission conducted multiple oral history interviews with J. Frank Raley. They explored his life as a boy raised in southern St. Mary's County, his work as a politician in the Maryland legislature, his advocacy for St. Mary's College and Historic St. Mary's City, and his involvement in the state's fight for the Potomac River. Senator Raley was later interviewed in 2009 by the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association in partnership with StoryCorps for an oral history compilation entitled "Changing Landscapes in Southern Maryland." 

Senator Raley's friends, including Judge John Hanson Briscoe and the late John T. "Jack" Daugherty, also loaned their voices to the discussion of Senator Raley's career.


    • J. Frank Raley, c. 1964. St. Mary's College of Maryland Archives.
    • J. Frank Raley, c. 1964. St. Mary's College of Maryland Archives.

    Senator Raley discusses how his upbringing affected his political philosophy.

    Jack Daugherty: J. Frank Raley was not your average politician.

    Judge John Hanson Briscoe and Senator Raley discuss the effect of slots on Southern Maryland.

    Jack Daugherty recalls how Senator Raley eliminated slot machines in Southern Maryland.

    The SlackWater Center

    St. Mary’s College of Maryland, 1998-2013

    Header image courtesy of The Calvert Marine Museum